The Iceberg Theorem can help save - or sink - a long-term budget.

Last year, I spoke at a couple of building operator conferences on the topic of system training. The cornerstone to my discussion is that the client (building owner or operations manager) is responsible for identifying the system training needs for a building program. At the time, I wasn’t sure the majority of clients recognized that they were responsible for initiating this discussion and investing in its success. I produced a system training flow diagram as part of my conference seminar presentation that captured my thought process, and from that I created a system training owner’s project requirement for facility management (OPR-FM).


If you are familiar with the LEED® new construction and renovation process, there is a requirement that the owner, along with some help from the design team, will produce an OPR. As I thought about this OPR compliance, it became clear to me whether the job was going to be LEED-certified or not, the building program needed an OPR-FM that identified the system training required, along with a second OPR-FM addressing O&M manuals, a topic for August.

As I built my OPR-FM, it became more and more clear to me that this document was long overdue. Up to this point, design teams specify in Division 1 (as well as in other Divisions of the contract specifications) the training requirements in a brief manner or, on some occasions, outline the requirements in great detail. There are several flaws with this approach, beginning with how their standardized specification is just that: standardized with one specification fits all, whether it is an office building, college dorm, or surgical suite. This standardized specification is not often coordinated with the building owner, so there usually isn’t buy-in by the facility management staff because they didn’t provide much, if any, input into the training specification.

Next, the required funds are not included in the construction budget. Instead, the owner’s project manager or building program committee will stipulate that the money must come from the annual operations budget and not this construction budget. When the facility person hears that, she will say, “I don’t have the money in my budget to fund the training needed,” not to mention she probably doesn’t have the maintenance staff to operate and maintain the building when it comes online.

systems training for optimum performance

So how do you go about getting the building owner and facility manager on the same page relative to an OPM-FM? Well, I think it has to be championed by at least the building program project manager, owner representative, IPD facilitator, design team, or a combination of some or all of them. I frequently use the term, “Iceberg Theorem” that says 15% of the cost of a building is first cost and that 85% of the cost of the building is in O&M over the life of the building. So for those building committees looking to build a $20 million building or addition, this committee needs to recognize the building owner will spend another $103 million in maintaining this asset. If the facility management staff does not understand the O&M of the mechanical and electrical systems, it is safe to say that the owning and operating cost will exceed $103 million, and equipment reliability will be compromised over the life of the building.

When the building systems don’t continue to operate to the owner’s expectations, I’m sure the design team and the builder have been long gone from the site and the somewhat untrained facility person is left with this problem. To avoid this frequent occurrence, I believe it is the building owner’s responsibility to not let this happen.

Think about it. A building owner probably expects his $20,000 automobile to operate properly, and if it doesn’t, he goes to a trained mechanic to correct the problem. He also has routine maintenance done by a trained technician. So why don’t owners approach their $20 million investment the same way? Don’t they see that they are buying the equivalent of 1,000 automobiles?

In my quest to provide integrated project delivery (IPD) services (check out, I have mandated that the initial program phase include an OPM-FM, and that the funds be allocated and the training begins in the third phase of the IPD process, in the documentation phase with preliminary introduction to systems and feedback from the facility representative(s).

So often, the O&M staff is left out of all the early building program decisions, and yet this staff will eventually inherit the building. At that point in time, the facility staff can either embrace the building and its systems or not take ownership and begrudgingly operate and maintain it. In the end, they are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Let’s start at the start with the solution and the budget to provide system training. ES